Friday, November 18, 2011

I Would Have Learned More In School If They'd Kept All The Nasty Details

I love history.

One of the greatest gifts I ever received was when my James got instant Netflix on our TV, because now I can watch all the documentaries I want.  And I watch a lot of documentaries about a lot of different things.

Last night I was watching a rather cheesy documentary on Mount Vesuvius and Pompeii.  For those of you who don't know, Mount Vesuvius is an active volcano in Italy.  It is very famous, because in AD 79 the volcano erupted and covered the towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum in volcanic ash, completely preserving the towns and the people in the exact positions they were in when they died.  It is one of the best examples of Roman life from that time period, or any time period. 

For god's sake, there is a little corner store that was unearthed with small change still on the counter, waiting for its owner to pick it up.

One of the most amazing finds in this site is a cellar where a number of individuals sought shelter.  The ash and lava encased the town and the cellar, entombing them where they lay.  The bodies that were out in the open were not as well preserved as the people in the cellar.  This is particularly notable, because most Romans at this time cremated their dead, and thus we have very few humans remains from this time period.

Ok, hang on, I am slowly getting to the point.

This documentary I was watching described the people in the cellar.  They appear to have separated themselves into two groups - the wealthy and the poor, possibly even slaves.  The skeleton of a man lies between the two groups.  A large bag of gold was found by his remains, and this documentary surmised that the cellar belonged to this man, and that he had brought the gold with him when he retreated into the cellar with the other people.

This is where I take issue.

This man didn't just bring a bag of gold into the cellar with him and usher passing wealthy citizens into his cellar out of the goodness of his heart.  Think about this.  He was charging people for the use of his shelter.  Charging.  That's why the cellar wasn't overflowing with bodies.  If he was just kindly inviting everyone in there would be bones stacked upon bones.  He wasn't.  He was making a profit off of a tragedy.

Question.  What is more interesting?  A man who opens the door to his home to everyone, or one who charges whatever a person has on them for their lives? 

I want to know more about the greedy man.  Because I could totally buy that a man like that existed.  I have met that man before.  If there is one mistake people make in teaching history it is the notion that the people that came before us were all the different from us now.  Human beings are emotional, greedy, despicable, incredible creatures.  They were just as bad and just as good as we are now.  So many times we are misled into thinking that the people who had a hand in making the world what it is today were somehow better, more noble than people are today.  Yes, there were very noble, honorable people who shaped the world, but many of the movers and shakers were just as nasty, petty and driven by greed and sex as anyone is today.

How much more interesting is history to learn if historical figures were actually people?  John Adams was a jerk!  Abe Lincoln was reluctant!  Edward Hyde (New York, New Jersey governor in the 1700s) was a cross dresser!  Alexander the Great was gay! 

Real life is better than history any day.